Gaining Weight on A Low Calorie Diet

So, you’ve been restricting calories to lose weight. For whatever reason, perhaps because you have an eating disorder, because you think you need to look a certain way to wear a bathing suit, or because the media and our culture have forced you to look upon yourself with distaste and wish for something better.  You’ve googled what to do and low-calorie diets and meal plans come up immediately.  “If energy in is less than energy out and the pounds will melt right off!” the articles say.

Maybe that was you 1 year ago, and you tried the diet, and it worked! But then you couldn’t maintain the restrictive lifestyle (because who could??) so the weight came back on. Then you tried again. and again. Now you’re restricting your calories under the façade of a “diet” just like you did before but this time you are noticing that you’re gaining weight!! Why the fuck is this happening??

angry look whos talking now GIF
your metabolism @you

Well let me tell you – honey, your metabolism is mad.

When you attempt to lose weight quickly with low calorie meal plans, sure you lose some fat, but you ALSO lose muscle.  Your muscle mass is the most important factor that keeps your metabolic rate high.

Let’s say before you started dieting you were able to maintain your weight easily on 2700 calories a day. (These numbers are just examples). Then you go on your first low-calorie diet and lose 10 pounds quickly. While that rapid weight loss is initially encouraging it is not as fantastic as you may think.  You see, those 10 pounds include muscle loss.  So after a few weeks when life gets in the way and the diet is no longer sustainable, the weight comes back on AND your metabolic rate has dropped from 2700 to 2300 because of the muscle loss. With each new diet your metabolic rate decreases even more until your maintenance calories are lower than your diet calories – hence why you will eventually gain weight on low calorie diets.


Unfortunately, this is a common problem and one of the reasons why the diet industry is an evil multi-billion-dollar industry. You see when these low-calorie meal plans work initially, people then blame themselves when they aren’t able to sustain them.  Then they continuously attempt to recreate the results of the first time but every time you force starvation onto your body through the guise of a “diet” you are furthering metabolic damage. This is also why when the weight comes back on eventually, you gain more than you started with. It’s not your fault, it’s the lies of diet culture that “innocently” suggest unsustainable and dangerous meal plans on people desperate for a quick fix.

So, you’re in a metabolically suppressed state commonly known as “starvation mode” – what do you do? Well the first step is obviously to STOP low calorie diets.  When I was stuck in this situation the only thing that worked for me was to eat eat eat until my metabolism caught up with me. No, your metabolism is not “broken,” I promise you that is impossible. Yes, I gained he weight back to where I was before I ever attempted my first diet… but I’m so much happier loving myself in this body than I ever was torturing myself in my calorie restricted body.

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Rachel, 25, Badass feminist, Kitchen mess maker, Spanish speaking television buff, Bikram yoga junkie, Buffy Summers wannabe, ED Recovery warrior.

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